Over 50,000 tonnes of trash have accumulated at the transfer station on the island of Holbox, Quintana Roo, triggering concerns that a health and environmental emergency is imminent.
Several local businesspeople have expressed concerns about the impact the masses of garbage will have on the environment, the newspaper Milenio reported.
Holbox is a narrow, approximately 40-kilometer-long island located off the northeastern coast of the Yucatán Peninsula. Popular with tourists, the island is separated from the mainland by a shallow lagoon that is home to bird species such as flamingos and pelicans.
The amount of trash at the island’s transfer center increased 200% in recent weeks due to the influx of Holy Week visitors, Milenio reported.
As a transfer station, garbage is only supposed to be stored there temporarily and then moved elsewhere. The site was closed for use as a landfill by the federal environmental agency Profepa in 2021 but eventually, the town was allowed to use it again but only as a transfer station. However, the businesspeople that spoke with Milenio said that the site is being used again as an open-air dump.
The accumulating garbage could contaminate water sources and soil on Holbox – as well as the lagoon and sea that surround it – and block drains and cause illness among locals. Biologist Rebeca León Castro told Milenio that the uncovered garbage would attract rodents, scavengers such as vultures and insects, which could generate public health risks.
In December 2020, local authorities got rid of some 75,000 tonnes of trash that had accumulated at the site via a process known as thermo-valorization, which uses heat to decompose inorganic waste.
But the municipality of Lázaro Cárdenas, where Holbox is located, currently doesn’t have the resources required to pay a private company to get rid of the trash and avert what could become an environmental and health crisis, according to a local government source who spoke with Milenio.
The source said that the Lázaro Cárdenas government is doing what it can to respond to the situation and has asked for help from local businesses, but little assistance has been forthcoming.
A similar situation was seen last year on Isla Mujeres, a small island of the coast of Cancún.
Local officials there said that the former municipal government allowed 35,000 tonnes of trash to accumulate at the transfer center. The new government gradually solved the problem by shipping the garbage to the mainland for disposal.
Environmentalists say that the state Environment Ministry has done little to combat trash problems on Holbox, Isla Mujeres and Cozumel, a much larger Caribbean Sea island located off the coast of Playa del Carmen.
With reports from Milenio